The Mad Bomber (1973)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 6, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Analog Man can not live on DVD and Blu-ray alone. In this ongoing column we blow the dust off our VCR's and travel back to an ancient time where VHS tapes ruled the earth. Our mission? To re-discover those forgotten gems that are yet to receive the digitally enhanced 7.1 channel surround sound treatment...

Director: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Chuck Connors, Neville Brand, Vince Edwards
Screenplay: Bert I. Gordon
Country: USA
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Based very loosely on the real crimes of the Mad Bomber in the US in the early 20th century and the Zodiac Killer in the late 60s and early 70s, The Mad Bomber is the deliriously weird tale of an unstable ex-husband and father (uber-stuntman and all-round champion Chuck Connors in a mind-bogglingly bizarre role) with a yen for niceness (traditional values) over nastiness (characterised by modern life), mixed with a police-procedural story, mixed with the hunt for a serial-rapist (Neville Brand, in reality one of the most highly decorated US soldiers of World War 2), mixed with the sensibilities of an early 1970s un-PC US exploitation film. In other words, it's genius! And even better, it's guaranteed to shock, offend and otherwise disturb the moral majority – watch and learn, kids, watch and learn – this is brilliant low-budget film-making at it's very best.

From the very get-go we see the weirdness that is Chuck Connors' character out for revenge, trying to right the wrongs of a society responsible for the death and degradation of his daddy's-little-girl daughter. He upbraids some poor unsuspecting civilian for littering, telling him to apologise and moreso that, "It's people like you who make our world filthy, my friend – you're a pig!", and making the fella repeat it, and pick up the trash. I used to watch Chuck Connors back in the mid 70s on a TV show called Thrillseekers, where he'd introduce various stuntmen, like Evil Knievel, doing crazy things, but he was nowhere near as dangerous as he seems in this film, a big and tall lanky nutcase with a sense that he's doing the right thing by society, avenging himself against the world that killed his daughter, despite the fact that he's killing loads of folks.

We cut to a scene of ol' Chuck making a time-bomb (it's a bit of a "how-to" movie in that regard), and it's not the last time we see such a thing. He's out to bomb the local High School, seeing it as a hot-bed of moral corruption (this begins his cycle of revenge – his daughter's downfall began at the school, then the hospital is unable to save her, and so it goes...), and wanting to warn the locals against the evils of such things as pre-marital sex (this is all intercut with images of his dead sweet-as-pie teenage daughter – and that's a relationship Dr Freud should look into immediately). The amount of blood and boobs we see in the aftermath of the bombing is not especially grisly, but it's more than I'm assuming can be shown on ABC-TV, which apparently a cut version of this film has been.

The Bomber decides to blow up a mental hospital as a means of furthering his vengeance, and this is where the film really springs to life – when he plants the bomb, he's also seen by serial rapist George Fromley, the only person who can identify him – the cops have to find the rapist to be able to work out who the bomber is. Cue: over-acting! Just when you thought Chuck Connors was chowing down on the scenery, just wait until gravel-voiced film noir veteran Neville Brand (playing the rapist – you'd know his fine work as the hotel owner in Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive aka Death Trap) turns up on the scene – over-acting melodrama awaits! Not to mention a lot of day-for-night camera-work.

Enter: Detective Geronimo – a hard-bitten police officer whose wife has left him and who doesn't play by the rules (that stereotype of exploitation films) who's trying to solve two cases at once – that of the rapist and the bomber. He works out pretty rapidly that he needs to find the rapist to find the bomber. The bomber, on the other hand, is still living it up in his ill-fitting grey flannel suit, administering advice to the rude and annoying populace of Los Angeles, California. When some douche-bag in a sports car tries to make Chuck walk that little bit faster across a pedestrian crossing, Chuck responds with, "People like you are what's wrong with the world today...You have no respect for the rights of others...And because you have a nice car and I have to walk, that means you own the sidewalk? … That's another thing about people like you, they sit behind the wheel of a fancy car, and that makes you privileged", before taking the guy's keys and throwing them in the mailbox. He's not a wholly unsympathetic character in that regard – who hasn't thought that kind of thing at one time or another? Mind you, I'm guessing that most of us don't sit at home plotting to blow people up with home made high explosives, so that sympathy is pretty limited.

Detective Geronimo tries to do his bit by shutting down a porno theatre owner's schtick, but I mean really, what use was that? What we get is a policeman who's trying to find a bad guy, who's trying to get the whole LAPD to get on board to find the Mad Bomber – and he's failing dismally – and who's trying to deal with every bit of badness and corruption that's around – he's the boy with his finger in the dyke trying to hold back the flood.

The Bomber has been calling local radio stations with crack-pot ravings, much like the Zodiac Killer's cyphers to the LAPD at roughly the time this film was made – I'm gonna assume that was intentional in terms of exploiting a current crime. Geronimo, in the meantime, goes to the Police Department's super-computer (just have a look at what constitutes "super-computer" in the early 70s) to find more girls who were raped using the same MO as the mental patient, Marsha – mouth taped, attacked from behind, clothes ripped from the body – to see if he can get anymore clues as to the identity of the rapist and from there, the Bomber. Geronimo's boss doesn't see it that way and thinks our boy is wasting his time (citing Geronimo's interviewing of a stripper as evidence), sending the good detective instead out to capture a garden variety loony who's trying to steal some dynamite from a construction site.

The Bomber, however, is ready to strike again – it struck me while watching this that he's a lot like D-Fens in Falling Down, a fella who gets lied to at every turn, ripped off, bullied and assaulted – us, basically, in the modern world – and simply wants justice. Now that desire for justice is fair enough, but it's the methods by which he tries to attain it that are more than a bit questionable, and turn objective justice into subjective vengeance. Still, there are a few situations he finds himself in that we can all identify with, and that kind of humanises the character, until of course we remember that he's crazier than a shit-house rat – and you'd better believe Chuck Connors plays that card to the hilt, taking his bomb for a walk to the local supermarket. He doesn't seem to want to plant it there, he just seems to be spending some time bonding with it. But, it's an uneasy moment – the dramatic irony of the scene works like this: having beaten the snot out of some potential muggers who wanted the Bomber's package without realising what it was, he saunters into the supermarket wanting to take advantage of a special sale they're having. The checkout chick and the owner of the supermarket have a hard time explaining to our boy that the sale is over, and you can see him getting angry and frustrated – we know he's carrying a bomb, and has no compunctions about using it, if he feels that he's been slighted or ripped off in any way. These people are playing with fire, even if they're not aware of it.

Mind you, Fromley is also ready to strike again, so Geronimo has his hands full. This is the point where the rapist's character starts to be more fleshed out and developed. Sure, we've seen him strike before, but here it's a more drawn out scene, more leering and grimy, not to mention callous and cruel. Brand always played a good villain, and he's at the top of his form here; it's a shame he was never a bigger star than he was.

The Bomber's motives are starting to become more clear here as well. It's a credit to the director that these motives are kept off-screen for a while, so as to make the character more interesting; we're fed little clues piece by piece rather than having some huge blob of expository dialogue hurled at us, or some odious flashback sequence. The Bomber is definitely a chauvinist as well as a man dis-satisfied with the modern world – check out how he deals with a local feminist collective's meeting (I get the impression that writer/director Gordon was making his own statement about gender politics here...) - mind you, faced with that kind of anti-male rhetoric, his actions aren't entirely without justification... He sees women's roles in a much more conservative light, and the women's-libbers he blows to kingdom come are obliquely responsible for his daughter's death, in his eyes they present an un-natural ideal for women, a turn against the 'traditional' values he advocates.

Geronimo goes back to his original plan – to lure out the rapist and get the Bomber's description from him, so he falls back on his earlier idea, to get a whole bunch of police-women out on the street dressed in such a way so as they're "just asking to be raped" - yet again the writer shows himself to be one of the finest minds of the 14th century. The dialogue is pretty darned sleazy all the way through the film, but sometimes it really outdoes itself, dropping an amazing clanger like that one; you'd never hear a line like that one in this day and age. The black humour present in the film is typified by the bad taste of such lines, so over the top that they could only be being played for guilty laughs. Or maybe that's just my take some 37 years after the event.

Mind you, while feminists are being portrayed as boring man-hating demogogues, men are being portrayed as borderline psychotic rapists, so I don't think anyone gets out of this one scot-free. Geronimo's plan only seems to reveal that given the opportunity, fellas think solely with their crotches. So much for the Summer of Love, huh? But, rapist Fromley is captured. Not that he's being all that helpful, mind you. Geronimo, at the same time is proving himself to be somewhat further to the Right of Attila the Hun, so while his desire to do the right thing is laudable, the way he goes about doing so makes Dirty Harry look like Officer Friendly.

With George locked up, Geronimo pays a visit to his house, where we see that ol' Mr Fromley has some pretty weird habits – and this is one of the differences between the alternate versions of the film which exist (in other versions, this scene is far less lurid); here we get to see George's collection of blown-up happy-snaps of his wife in all manner of undress, in all manner of lurid positions, and as for his home-made stag films, well, enough said (put the kleenex away fellas, it's about as appealing as the idea of your parents having sex). Oddly enough, Mrs Fromley doesn't think there's anything wrong with this. I did, but purely on an aesthetic level, you understand.

Now, while the boys in blue can't hold Fromley on the attempted rape charge (no, I don't know why they can't either), Geronimo makes the most of Fromley's previous misdemeanours to have him dragged down to the station at Fromley's inconvenience to lean on him as hard as he can, as many times as he can, for as many petty reasons as he can, and it's all above board and according to the law. George makes a composite of the Bomber's face, and the net starts to close in on the Boom-Boom Boy, tout de-fuckin' sweet.

The Bomber's grip on reality slips even further once the heat's on him, and as for the grand (and boy, do I mean grand) finale? Well, I advise you to either wait until it's back on late-night TV (not an uncommon occurrence in this country), or start hunting through VHS bargain bins to find out. Believe me, you won't be disappointed – there's really only one way this film can end, and man, it doesn't stint on the entertainment.

Let's do the exploitation check-list: does this film contain

  • Boobs? Check.

  • Blood? Check, although there could have been more (that said, the last scene makes up for a lot).

  • Dialogue guaranteed to offend? Check.

  • Dialogue and acting guaranteed to make you laugh unintentionally? Check.

  • Over-acting by Hollywood has-beens and never will bes? Check.

  • An outrageous storyline? Check.

  • The kind of B-grade sensibilities ensuring that you will have a whale of a time? You'd better believe that's a check.

The Mad Bomber is an exercise in B-grade greatness, which makes it A-OK by me. By turns sleazy, cheesey, tasteless and weird, this has quickly become a favourite film of mine and one of those default movies – you know the ones, the films you put on when you can't think what else you want to watch, or when you've come home from the pub 5 schooners over your limit, clutching a kebab. It's one of exploitation cinema's lost classics, I sincerely hope that this film comes to light on DVD sometime soon, re-mastered by a company with a fine taste in the wonderful cinema of the exploitative excess of the 1970s – Something Weird, Blue Underground and Media Blasters, where are you?! Watch it and have a blast. Sorry – couldn't resist.
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